Posted by: sean | September 22, 2008


My house has a ten foot wall around it. Topped with snarled coils of barbed wire. Four guards patrol the grounds with clubs. How tough would it be to sneak into chez Sean? One day, I drove up to my house in a big, white Carter Center SUV. I smiled at the guards. Hello! They smiled back and told me that Sean wasn’t there and that I couldn’t enter. They refused me entry to my own house on the basis that there was no one (i.e. ME) home to welcome me. They had beautiful logic. This is how tough it is to sneak into my house. I thought.

There’s a tall lamppost down the street that has a small sign near the top that reads ‘do not climb’. It seems somewhat counterintuitive to put the sign up there. Surely, you should be warned not to climb the lamppost somewhere near the bottom? Perhaps at head height?

I slept in on Sunday, which is hard to do because just beyond the ten foot wall outside my house there is a family of metallurgers who seem to only have a hammer and only work with sheets of sound-conducting, eardrum-splitting tin. There’s also a boy who walks around with sausages on his head yelling “fascists, fascists, fascists”, but who I only very recently realized is actually yelling “sausages, sausages, sausages”. Sometimes Liberians are difficult to understand. When I woke up and realized that it was past 10am (Victory! Take that metallurgers!) I knew that it was going to be a day of sloth and decadence. I sauntered downstairs and put a pot of water on the stove – whenever I have the time, I take a hot bucket shower instead of my normal Jesus Shower, which consists of me standing under the freezing faucet and screaming JESUSJESUSJESUSACKOHGODJESUS (my showers are much shorter on Jesus Shower days).

On my way to the kitchen I passed Vishal, a Scott Fellow working for the Ministry of Finance who just arrived in Liberia and is house hunting. My house has become a sort of half-way home for visitors and vagrants. Vishal is the most hard-working vagrant I’ve had (sorry other vagrants, it’s true) usually hunched over his laptop working when I get up; like most people in Liberia, Vishal works insane hours, especially for a vagrant. In the kitchen, I did my daily dance with the stove. The knob is finicky and releases so much gas even at the lowest level that when I light a match near the stovetop it sends a ball of fire up my arm. I usually turn the knob, hear the hiss of gas, stand back, and toss a match in the general direction of the stove. If you can’t stand the ball of fire, get out of the kitchen.

I’ve never been in my favorite store. It sits at the roadside near Duala market, just outside of Monrovia as you head towards Bomi County. The sign above the entrance reads ‘Sham Inc.’ What kind of business would advertise itself as a sham? How did it become incorporated? Above all, I appreciate that the business is honest about what it is.

After my hot bucket shower, I went back downstairs to lay on the couch and read. Sloth! Decadence! Sunday! Vishal typed away on his computer, hopefully he was checking Craigslist for Monrovia houseshares, because he has to make way for a new vagrant on Wednesday. There was a knock at the door. Come in! I looked up from my book. A Liberian woman came in and walked up to Vishal, who was seated near the door. They chatted and I was happy to see that in his few weeks here he had made friends with one of his colleagues from the Ministry of Finance. Across the room, I went back to my book. The woman asked Vishal if he had a charger, he didn’t, she asked him to ask his friend to see if I had one. He asked, and I told her she could check the charger near my couch. As she walked away from Vishal, towards me, Vishal gave me a look that said one thing: I have no fucking clue who this person is, do you know her? I did not and tried to give him a look that said, Oh shit, I don’t know her, we should head to the panic room.

My charger wasn’t the right size for the woman’s phone, so she headed into the kitchen and turned on the sink. I got up from the couch, gestured to Vishal and we headed upstairs to talk.

I thought you knew her?!
I thought YOU knew her?!
What is she doing here?
Did she just walk in?
That’s so brazen!
What does she want?

We had more questions than answers. We went back downstairs, not quite sure what to do; the woman seemed to be at home in my house, maybe she belonged here. It sounded like she was cleaning dishes, maybe a new Sunday cleaner had been hired…surely there was a normal explanation.

Liberia’s President is currently embroiled in a scandal involving an e-mail sent by an advisor soliciting funds through shady, backwater channels. The advisor’s name is Knuckles. The President seems smart, what good could she have thought would come from hiring a man named Knuckles?

I went into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Excuse me, you don’t need to wash the dishes, we have a housekeeper who does that. And, sorry to be rude, but, do we know you? Yes, she knew we had a housekeeper, she told us she had been here last Sunday. Last weekend I was up at the beach in Robertsport near the border with Sierra Leone, so I wasn’t sure if she was telling the truth. I walked out of the kitchen and passed Vishal who looked as uncomfortable as I felt. He gestured as though to say, What the hell are we going to do about this woman? I picked up my book, waved to Vishal and walked upstairs as though to say, See ya! Have fun with the woman in the kitchen! Upstairs, I called John, my boss, who in turn called Deacon, our finance and logistics coordinator who has a handle on everything and reminds me of Milo Minderbinder from Catch-22. Deacon told us what we suspected: there was no hired help for Sunday. The woman was escorted out of the house by the guards.

There was an article in the newspaper today with a picture of an obese chef at an event. The article argued that the chef must have been good because he was obese, a clear sign that he enjoyed his food. The article went on to say that the author followed the chef around at the event because he was sure that the chef would lead him to good food.

There are a lot of strange signs, stories and occurrences in Monrovia. The woman had been brazen. She had talked her way into my compound, acting as though she belonged. I think she was looking for a job, but, if so, I’m not sure why she didn’t ask for a job or introduce herself. As I pondered this bizarreness, it occurred to me that she was doing what I do. Liberia is a city of compounds with ten foot walls and snarled barbed wire and men with clubs patrolling the grounds. If you want to play tennis, you have to find a compound with a tennis court. If you want to swim, you have to find a compound with a pool. Of course, these compounds are closed off, and if you don’t live there – if you don’t belong – then you are not permitted to enter. It is tough to sneak in. I’ve gotten around this problem by walking into compounds as though I own them. Feeling like a dip? I just put on my swim trunks and walk up to the compound with the pool. Never mind that it makes no sense why someone who should live in the compound, and had the right to use the pool, would enter the compound in his swim trunks, what’s important is that I had a purposeful expression that said I belonged. In Monrovia, city of compounds and closed doors, the only way to get in, to get up, to get a living is to walk in with purpose.


  1. you know life is tough when you are turning away potential servants…hope everythings going well…maybe you should invest in a lock for your door

  2. Knuckles? But not to worry we have a potential Vice President who can see Russia….
    and honestly if I would have to choose between sneaking into a compound with a juicer or a pool and tennis court…I am sure that like your visitor we would all choose your compound…

  3. You are so the highlight of my day. 🙂

  4. For crying out loud,wake up! The woman was obviously looking for the famous juice man and his overpriced concoctions.What kind of a businessman are you anyway?

  5. I think it is time for a new post, Sean. Your readership cannot be sustained on such infrequent literary snacks.

  6. Hey Sunburn. Get to writing, huh? I produced more frequent blog entries when I was being held captive on a spit and slow cooked by Pygmies for two months.

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